Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

Lori Saldaña Defends Gun Control After Aurora Shooting

Screen_Shot_2012-07-23_at_4.13.13_PM.png
Lori Saldana and Alex Kreit, Gun Control
The Nuances Of Regulating Guns
GuestsLori Saldana, former California State Assembly Member, in 2010 she authored legislation to ban the carrying of openly displayed handguns in public. Alex Kreit Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law

CAVANAUGH: Lori, welcome to the program. Alex Kreit also joins us. How tough is it to get gun regulations passed? KREIT: It is a real challenge. It has become the third rail. You have extremists on both ends. The people who are absolute in their defense of anyone's right to have guns at any time, any place. And other people with concerns that it creates unsafe communities. CAVANAUGH: We heard an awful lot about lobbying by the NRA. What insurance have you had with that? KREIT: They have an office in Sacramento. They only have one other in Washington. They spend millions of dollars, on campaigns, lobbying, the bill that I carry, the gun safety bill on open carry, they have a softer pose compared to other bills. They recognize that many of the advocates for open carry were not -- they weren't conforming with the goals of safe gun ownership with training. But they are a very effective organization. And my concern is they're branching into new areas. At the anti, one of their priority bills, it had nothing to do with gun safety. Yet they considered it a priority bill. It's very troubling the direction they're going. CAVANAUGH: And they were against any disclosure, right? KREIT: Correct. CAVANAUGH: Allen is on the line from Northpark. Welcome to the program. NEW SPEAKER: I'd like to make a quotation from doctor Martin Luther King. In the Vietnam days in 1967 he said "a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense and than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death." And it seems to me that in your time right now, after more than ten years of wars in foreign country, is the militarization of society filtering down into the society at large and being accepting of the use of violence? CAVANAUGH: That's a very interesting point. I'd like to talk about that in your next segment. Thanks very much for that call. Gun control advocates argue the amendment could be made because it was for a well-armed militia. PETERS: For the nation's history, it was thought the second amendment didn't grant individual rights. And in 2008 and 2010, in a series of two Supreme Court rulings, they said the second amendment does grant an individual right. But in those cases, they are pretty limited. They really dealt with handgun bans. The first case, heller, dealt with a DC gun ban. And they said you can't have a complete ban of weapons that are in use by law-abiding citizens for their own personal protection inside the home. It was very limited in terms of what it struck down. But it was a groundbreaking holding in that it recognized this individual right to bear arms under the second amendment. CAVANAUGH: One of the fallouts it might have on gun regulation, lower courts might interpret this decision would strike down a lot of existing gun regulations. PETERS: Yeah, and I think that's true. One of the things is that a lot of opponents of gun control have tried to make more of the Supreme Court cases than really they are of the the Court in these cases said that they weren't talking about dangerous and unusual weapons and they don't specify what weapons there could be bans on. They also said nothing about longpossession of weapons by felons, the mentally ill. So it was a pretty limited holding. At the same time, the Supreme Court did not articulate a test. Usually they say here's a 3-factor test, where you apply an intermediate scrutiny test. In these cases, they just said this ban is not constitutional. Here's some types of laws that probably would be okay. So I think that uncertainty has led to some confusion and opponents of gun regulation to insinuate that maybe these holdings are broader than they are. When you look at what lower courts have done, they've upheld prohibitions on substance abuse abusers, illegal aliens, assault weapons bans. Those kinds of things. Until the US Supreme Court takes another case and clarifies the scope of these holdings, there willing that uncertainty. CAVANAUGH: Lori, you told us about the pull and tug that goes on when these laws are being crafted. You introduced a bill that was vetoes that would have required people to have background checks before they have access to high-caliber weapons. Will bill passed but it wasn't signed by governor Schwarzenegger. Why do you think that's the way that bill ended up? KREIT: Covered training done with blackwater. They work with military personnel, and there was no background check to verify that they are not felons or have other prohibitions. They supported the bill. But the governor vetoed it on economic issues. That was a dire time in 2008, 2009, and he vetoed a number of bills. I just want to say it is a well-regulated militia, and that term I think is what has made some of these conditions acceptable to the Supreme Court. Evened founding fathers of the constitution recognize that there are regulations that are important to the safe ownership of weapons. So that's why I focus on gun safety. It's not about taking away people's rights. This is anything that createsa I hazard in a public place is well-regulated. CAVANAUGH: Shane from San Diego. NEW SPEAKER: I was just wondering if we could narrow our definition of arm to what it was 200 years ago, which is basically a musket where you had to take up to a minute to reload. You hear the Supreme Court saying, well, this is literally what they meant all the time. They could have never dreamt up an AK-47. Great point. When we talk about an individual right to bear arms, what kind of arms are we talking about? PETERS: It's funny. I think some do say, well, we're dealing with a whole different type of firearm today than we were at the time of the founding. Nevertheless the Supreme Court said a DC gun on handguns in the home was unconstitutional. They didn't articulate what types of guns could be banned and could not be. But they talked about guns that are in common use by law-abiding individuals, the types of weapons where bans might be suspect. They distinguished those common use firearms from dangerous and unusual firearms. Because of that language, I think a lot of court-watchers and commentators have looked at that and said bans of assault weapons would be constitutional, but it's not a certainty. CAVANAUGH: Commentators said if members in Colorado were armed, are the mass shooting could not have happened. I know a lot of people just say that's crazy. But isn't that the way, really, a lot of state laws are going? KREIT: That was brought up during the open-carry debate in California. The fact is, if you're an offduty law enforcement officer and you have training in those tactics of taking out a suspect who's armed with in a dark theatre, you might have gone a good chance. But more guns in an environment where people are not trained in that type of tactical response, are the more chance that people will be injured and killed. And that happened in the Gabial Giffords shooting. Someone saw what he thought was a shooter in Arizona, you have the right to opening carry guns at all times, the person nearly shot one of the people who have disarmed the shooter and said, no, they disarmed the shooter. That's a person who's part of the rescue. So it's a chaotic situation that people generally do not have the training to respond to. So no, I don't think the common people would be a good buffer to stopping violence in those situations. CAVANAUGH: But a lot of states are taking that sort of step, if you're a gun control advocate, it would be looked at as a step back, and allowing more concealed weapons with the idea that this -- you've got to confront the outlaw with your own gun. PETERS: Yeah. And I think it is one of those things where there are people who make that argument, the more weapons the more safety. But I think Lori is right. There's just not evidence to back that up. It really is about the training, about the environment. If you have a chaotic environment and situation like that, that's not evidence to show that anyone other than a law enforcement officer or someone with that type of training is going to be able to really respond effectively. Of course there is also the distinction between that and your average, everyday type of -- if you were mugged or something like that, may be you have -- if you have this chaotic situation, the more guns the more chaotic it's going to be. CAVANAUGH: We have the Internet being very much involved in the way that James Holmes was able to purchase gear and guns and really an enormous amount of ammunition. What are the laws around buying ammunition and buying weapons on the Internet in -- let's say you're buying them in a state that you're legal. Can you have them imported here? KREIT: In California we do have some restrictions on ammunition sale, but that may not also apply to Internet sales because it can be done in ways that are surreptitious. There is a federal bill introduced last year that would normalize concealed carry permits in every state to apply to every other state. That is a dangerous trend. Now you have background checks in one state that don't conform with another state's. It failed in the fall when it came up for a vote, but it probably is going to come up once again. I think that states' rights, their ability to limit ammunition sales for example. In California we have microstamping so you can identify bullet casings at scenes to help forensics in law enforcement investigations. Those are all things that I think are treating the symptoms, not the core cause of why we have these shootings. But California has fewer per capita shootings in the United States, and some of the strictest gun safety laws in the nation. So I think there is a definite link to that. CAVANAUGH: Do you think this shooting will renew calls for gun control or is the lockdown by the NRA too tight? KREIT: I brought up linking the finance form with priority bills, so I think they will be pressuring people financially F. You're in a tough campaign, I think they could bully people. I'm not that kind of a candidate. I'm not that kind of an elected official. I introduce bills based on what I thought were public safety issues and concerns after consulting with law enforcement. Obviously it changes from district to district, community to community, but I think the NRA is branching into campaign finance reform to keep that tight grip on who is willing and brave enough to introduce those types of bills.

Former California State Assembly Member Lori Saldaña authored legislation to ban the "open carry" of handguns in public in 2010, meaning handguns cannot be openly displayed.

She told KPBS it was "a matter of public safety."

"Making sure people who were openly carrying unloaded handguns in California were not creating an unsafe situation for people around them," she said.

One of the guns suspect James Holmes used in his alleged mass shooting at a Colorado movie theater is not legal in California: an AR-15 military-style assault rifle. But a Remington 12-gauge shotgun and two Glock pistols authorities say Holmes also used are available for legal purchase in this state.

Although the Constitution's Second Amendment protects the "right of the people to keep and bear arms," Saldaña said that is tempered by the phrase "a well-regulated militia."

"So regulations are appropriate," she said. "We have 50 to 60 gun deaths every day in the United States. So I think when we have these extreme situations as we have in Aurora, people start paying attention."

Alex Kreit, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said there is no empirical evidence to support the argument that if everyone in the Aurora movie theater had been armed, these deaths would not have occurred.

"If you have somebody that's well trained, maybe it's a different situation," he said.

Saldaña said it's often the case that untrained people with guns are more likely to become victims of their own weapons.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.